College Experience Topic Descriptions
We estimated a topic model with 13 topics, 840 open-ended responses, and a 300 word dictionary. (after removing stop words). The resulting topics are interpreted and described in the accompanying sections, and the responses reflect four main topic branches: Expanded Possibilities and Relaxation, **More and Better Social Connections **, Educational, and Small Role. The detailed methods for estimating the model can be found in the section on Topic Modeling and Interpretation.
What role did the arts play in your college experience, both positive and negative?
Students largely reported the positive role the arts played in their college experiences. Some students engaged in the arts primarily through their classroom experience (Educational), while some indicated that the arts played, at best, only a Small Role in their college experience. Even in these categories, the role of the arts in college was acknowledged as generally a positive one.
It is also important to note that there were some negative comments expressed by students about engaging in the arts in college — though these comments were often part of a more overall positive response, or were used as a point-counterpoint in a response. This ambivalence is present in the response to a few different questions, suggesting that there is a diversity of experience. When students did indicate a negative role for the arts, it typically stemmed from either their frustration at not achieving as good grades or outcomes from their arts endeavors, the time the arts required adversely affecting their other coursework grades or focus, or that arts participation steered them to consider or choose what they perceived to be a potentially less secure or lower paying jobs in an arts field.
Students indicated the positive role they felt the arts played in their college experience, providing opportunities for enrichment under the two major topic areas of Expanded Possibilities and Relaxation and More and Better Social Connections.
Expanded Possibilities and Relaxation
The major node Expanded Possibilities and Relaxation contains student responses that include those related to opening up students to consider different perspectives (Broadened Worldview) or changed personal goals or skills (Life Path and Improvement). Part of these expanded possibilities cited also included new or altered career goals or paths (Encouraged Exploration) or a more enriched or fulfilled life (Personal Enrichment). Interwoven throughout these topic areas is the idea that the arts created opportunities for relaxation and stress-relief from academic pressures, with this most specifically being described in the subnode, Break from Classes.
Break from Classes
Having something relaxing and creative to engage their time and attention outside of the classroom (Break from Classes) was reported by students as an important role the arts played in their college lives. They also reported it as a useful pastime, adding to their enjoyment of their coursework and a way to develop additional skills.
“A chance to relax and take a break from school.”
“The arts provided a space for sanity and creative problem solving. A nice escape from academic and business related works, while still building professional, positive, and useful life skills.”
“It gave me a creative outlet and a chance to focus on something other than school work.”
“The arts provided a relief from academic responsibilities, but also an outlet for creativity when there was no space for it in the classroom.”
“Taking the classes were an outlet for me. Although, they were hard work and time consuming it allowed me to have an outlet from the typical science courses that I took. I enjoyed being on north, sitting outside and using my time to visualize my surroundings in a way I normally wouldn’t.”
“Positive: It was a nice break from most of my school work (mathematics). Negative: None.”
Students reported the role the arts played in giving them a Broadened Worldview as a positive outcome. They often described this role as expanding their cultural awareness, giving them greater empathy, and developing new ways of thinking.
“Negative- my grades in art classes besides creative writing Positive- given me an alternate world view as opposed to the view touted by my major.”
“It has broadened my world view in a positive way.”
“Often a great opportunity in and out of class to expand my understanding of art and other ways of thinking.”
“A great way to interact with people from all over the world and share common human experiences”
“Provided me with enjoyment and an expanded worldview and more accepting of others cultures”
“I began to think in new ways and think about the beliefs of others.”
Exploration and Development
As the students have reported, the arts were a mechanism for them to explore their interests, passions and career aspirations, and also a way for them to broadly develop themselves both personally and professionally. While arts participation Encouraged Exploration, leading to changes in perspective, expression, and academic goals, they also led to Personal Enrichment in professional, cultural, social, and communication contexts.
Student respondents described the arts here as allowing them to explore their interests and values, often unrelated to their major but important to their career choices (Encouraged Exploration). This exploration led to a wide range of impacts – everything from changed worldview to creative expression. They also indicated the importance of this exploration as an alternative to the stress of their academics.
This survey question is one of only a few we asked that elicited open-ended responses around career decisions and goals – aside from the direct question focused on career impacts. The student pool of respondents does not reflect a larger than expected number of arts majors (they appear in similar numbers to the overall student body at the time of the survey), so these career influences are likely spread across the range of majors (as is evidenced by some of the response quotes).
“Allowed me to explore my passions that were unrelated to my major.”
“The arts have helped me maintain my values, and realize my passions and goals.”
“It positively allowed me to de-stress from all the schoolwork. nothing negative.”
“Architecture served as a possible career path, and exploring it really opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about the physical world.”
“Helping me get through tough times, and influencing my potential career goals.”
Learning about themselves and developing a sense of purpose and balance are the main takeaways from student arts engagement reported here (Personal Enrichment). The language indicates a very personal connection to the benefits of their participation across a wide range of topics – professional, cultural, expressive, leadership, social, communicative. When the reported role of the arts was personally negative it was typically related to the time it took to participate or the financial burdens the arts placed on audience members or career practitioners.
“It was truly a launching point for the rest of my life in terms of my career. It exposed me to all of the aspects of the music industry, some positive and some negative. It provided me with opportunities for personal fulfillment and self expression that have given me a strong purpose in life. Negatively, it prevented me from “getting out there” sometimes. I had to practice so much that sometimes I felt like a bit of a shut-in. It took work to figure out how to balance out practicing and leisure.”
“Positively helped me to communicate better and be more confident about my abilities.”
“My experiences have been positive, enriching my understanding of self and cultural expression.”
“Majority of the artwork I did in college was for homework, but it lead me to choose artistic classes outside of the arts school that could be a bit more free.”
“Peer and community involvement, a very positive experience. I learned a lot about myself and what kinds of art I like, and why I like them, giving me a better sense of myself.”
“Positively, I think I gained self confidence. Negatively, it has lead me to aspire to be something that does not pay money.”
Focusing on the expected role the arts had in students’ learning and educational experience in college, this section of responses focuses strongly on students enrolling in arts courses, majoring in the arts, or otherwise engaging in the arts more through their academic work (Educational). We know from another question in the Arts Engagement Project survey (Barriers) that students want to have opportunities to engage the arts through classes, but are often unable to due to Academic Program Requirements, University Priorities, Departmental Segregation, and Distance Between Campuses.
“I really enjoyed learning about art history on a global scale and visiting a variety of museums in and around the Ann Arbor/Detroit/Toledo area. University of Michigan’s Art History Department is one of the best on campus and inspired me (a pre-med student) to continue to pursue my love of art by studying through a historical lens. I went from deciding to take one art history class for my LSA humanities credit to considering a minor in Art History to now majoring in Art History along with my original science major. I feel like I understand so much more about the world through art and I’m so glad I was able to learn about cultures I had limited to no exposure to previously.”
“I took a few art history classes and enjoyed quite a bit, and I also took a class on creative writing, art of film, and history of rock music. Each of these classes were some of the best I have taken at the University.”
“Being that LSA Music is one of my majors, arts (namely music) have been a very regular part of my college experience. There were times, however, that I wished I could be part of other arts activities on campus, such as participating in theater groups, but my busy schedule made that near impossible because of the time commitment they require.”
“I’ve really enjoyed the classes that required me to go to the U of M museums. I went to a couple of musicals and I had never been to one before, and it was a really good experience.”
Unable to Participate Much
Many of the students responding specifically stated that the arts “didn’t play a role” in their college experience. Other responses pointed to an inability to attend arts events as much as they might have wanted, though this did not dampen the generally positive role they felt the arts had played for them during their time at the University.
“Arts played a small role in my college experience. When I did participate, it was a positive experience I attended various arts events that I thoroughly enjoyed, so I would say that arts played a slightly positive role.”
“Positive: Was able to attend a wide variety of fun events that showcased the immense talent we have on this campus Negative: I wish there was more time to participate in groups!”
“Mainly I missed the arts and loved the few events I was able to attend.”
“I didn’t get to participate as much as I wanted to.”
“They didn’t play that much of a role in college.”
“The arts played no significant role, they were neither positive nor negative.”
Students who report that the arts played only a small role in their college experience (Small Role) typically indicated it was because they had participated a limited number of times as an audience member, or as time allowed. While reporting this role as generally positive, they also said even this limited interaction increased their appreciation or the arts and artists.
“Mainly played a neutral role. I appreciated the arts when I was exposed to them, but that was a limited amount of experiences.”
“I have not been very involved in the arts in college – however I did attend a handful of performances which I have always enjoyed and appreciated. I would not say however that they had a large impact on me. While I am not an arts person, I can appreciate the arts.”
“I wouldn’t say they played a large enough role for me to have experienced anything negative, but I’ve definitely learned to be more appreciative of people in the arts as a result of my college experience.”
“I’ve participated in more arts activities this year than in years prior. I’ve attended a couple plays and dance performances, which have had positive impacts as I’ve gone to support friends and really enjoyed myself. There really hasn’t been a negative aspect to my slightly increased participation in the arts.